Words matter. Donald Trump sent a dangerous message when he recklessly suggested that gun rights supporters could take action if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who affirm gun control measures. It is a signal that is not open to a benign interpretation, and it is further evidence this man who so carelessly speaks without regard to the consequences is not fit to be president.
Here's what Trump said at a rally Tuesday in Wilmington, N.C.: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day.''
Facts matter. It is blatantly false that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment right to bear arms, yet Trump repeats the lie over and over. She supports reasonable gun control, including expanding background checks for gun buyers, banning assault weapons and preventing people on the government's no-fly list from buying guns.
Context matters. Trump and his campaign contended after the rally that he meant to encourage gun rights supporters to unite and vote to defeat Clinton in November. The National Rifle Association reinforced that defense on Twitter. But that explanation is not credible. Trump's phrasing clearly shows he was referring to what could happen after the Democrat was elected president and started nominating federal judges and Supreme Court justices.
The Secret Service did not take it as a get-out-the-vote message. CNN reported Wednesday that the Secret Service has spoken to the Trump campaign "multiple times" about his remark, and the campaign says the Republican nominee's intent was not to incite violence.
Records matter. Trump has a history of making false statements like his claim that Clinton wants to repeal the Second Amendment. Last week, he said he had seen a video of cash from a $400 million payment from the United States to Iran being unloaded from a plane in Tehran. No such video existed, and it turned out Trump was referring to widely seen video of American prisoners being released in Geneva. More than seven of every 10 Trump statements checked by PolitiFact have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.
Trump relies heavily on a casual approach to easily claim plausible deniability. He suggested "Second Amendment people" could respond to Clinton's judicial appointments, then added, "I don't know.'' Or he qualifies conspiracy theories by adding "people say," as he did when talking about the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran: "Some people say it's worse than stupidity. There's something going on that we don't know about."
When that does not work, Trump protests he was only joking — such as when he seemed to invite Russia to interfere in the presidential election and referred to the deletion of Clinton emails from her time as secretary of state last month: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.''
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Elections matter. Trump said his intent was not to incite violence from gun rights supporters if Clinton wins and appoints judges who uphold gun control laws. But his words easily could have been understood differently, and he and his supporters already have suggested the election could be rigged if he doesn't win. No responsible candidate for president would so casually toss out phrases that send ominous messages threatening the safety and integrity of America's democracy.